Long-Term MLB Player Contracts: Sheer Lunacy


Manny Machado

Bryce Harper





       By Scott Myers, Contributor


Do you work in a profession where the most elite of your peers get paid substantially more money as their skills precipitously erode with age?  

If you are a Major League Baseball player, the answer is a definitive YES.  There is plenty of evidence to document this assertion, but will MLB owners pay any attention to it?  

We will find out pretty soon because lately, there has been lots of crazy talk going around about signing Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to 10-year or longer contracts worth $300 million or more.  Granted, both of them are ‘young’ – 26 years old, but 10 years is a long time in the life of an MLB player.  

So let’s review the facts.

There have been 283 seasons logged by 47 ‘everyday’ (non-pitcher) players with $100 million or greater contracts since 2000.  The average offensive stat line reads:

Note that the average number of games played by these elite athletes is 123 (about ¾ of a full 162 game MLB season).  In the three most recent years, average games played has plummeted from 123 in 2016, to 103 in 2017, to just 100 (barely 60% of a full season) in 2018.

Those 283 seasons include a player agerange of 23 to 41, with 83% of them occurring during the age 28 to age 36 years.

Not surprisingly, the average number of games played declines steadily as the players grow older, as shown here.  The age 39 data point anomaly is because there was only one season by a player at that age – Alex Rodriguez who played in 151 games.

Also, not surprisingly, OPS (On-base percentage +Slugging percentage) declines as the players age…

And, also not surprisingly, salaries increase as the players age…

So, over the course of these longterm contracts, as players age and/or wear out, they play in less games, are less productive, yet are paid more.  It is all quite backwards.

Oneyear contracts, or at least drastically shorter contracts, are definitely in order.  Players should earn the most during their most productive years.

These 283 seasons include:

11 seasons where the player appeared in no games
65 seasons where the player appeared in less than 100 games
Just 108 seasons where the player appeared in 150 games or more

Focusing on just the age 26 to age 35 seasons (the age range that Harper and Machado will be if they sign 10-year contracts) there have been 246 seasons which have an average offensive stat line of:

This is almost identical to the stat line shown above for all 283 seasons, and should be a very reasonable estimate for what to expect from Harper and Machado over the 10year period.  Is this worth $30 million to $40 million per season for each of them?  

Keep in mind, they are likely to be playing just ¾ of their teams’ games over the long haul.  And when they are out of the lineup, they will be replaced by players of much less talent.  

Because they will be such a heavy burden on their team payrolls, the supporting cast of characters on the team will have to be paid less and will likely be of lower than average quality.

But MLB owners are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, so expect Harper and Machado to be given a couple more excessively expensive and stupid long-term contracts by two sucker teams’ owners that have deep pockets and shallow brains.

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